Times May Change but Soccer Stays the Same
 
            When our now-adult kids were in middle school, they fell in love with soccer. It was a relatively new sport in New Orleans at the time. Only a few schools offered it, and there were no weekend leagues. Soccer quickly became the focal point of their lives, and for a lot of kids in the area it was the “new, new thing.” In fact, one of the most popular T-shirts in town said it all: “Soccer is life. The rest is details.”
            Papa and I sought out programs in New Orleans, beginning with FVB Elite Soccer Club at the University of New Orleans. A Dutch coach formed the club in an effort to create an elite group of middle and high school students to compete against regional teams. We sent our kids to out-of-state camps to further develop their skills. Soccer was, indeed, their lives for 11 months out of each year.
            Today soccer is mainstream and begins at a much earlier age. Rylan, 11, and Amelia, 8, began playing soccer when they were 4 years old, using a mini-soccer ball to accommodate their smaller feet and stature. In their first two years, games were played without a goalie. Coaches considered it a “win” if a game ended and no one lost a barrette – thus stopping the game to find it – or bit an opponent.
 
To the fields and back again
 
            Our weekends, once again, are spent at New Orleans City Park and Lafreniere Park. Travelling to other cities – even as far away as Memphis – is now the norm for Ry, Amelia and their parents. I feel like a soccer mom all over again. It’s the best kind of déjà vu.
            It seems like yesterday when I drove my blue Plymouth minivan (SUVs hadn’t been invented in those dark ages of auto history) to UNO to pick up a van-load of young preteens. There’s no aroma worse than hot, sweaty, pubescent preteens wafting from the back seats. Those thrice-weekly drives from the lakefront to Uptown were a challenge to any soccer mom or dad. Regardless of the weather, I drove with the windows down and the sunroof open.
            I often told my daughter, Stephanie, and her friends – and now Amelia and her buddies – that when I was young, team sports for girls were almost non-existent. They think I’m kidding. My memories of physical education involved wearing bright blue jumpsuits with bloomers, and doing jumping jacks in a stifling gym. Only tennis and swimming were offered, if we were lucky. Soccer, flag football, track and lacrosse didn’t exist for the “fairer sex.”
            Title IX changed everything, and forced schools and universities to offer the same athletic opportunities to women as their male counterparts. That was in 1972, a bit late for my generation. Not that it would have helped me. I’m an Olympic knitter, not a jock.
           
The game of life
 
            Today, cities across the region are building state-of-the-art soccer complexes – some with hotels nearby to accommodate the influx of weekend visitors. Sadly, New Orleans is a little late to this party, but there is always hope. Today, girls are fearlessly competing at every age, at every level and in every sport.
            Through our soccer days, I watched our kids – and now grandchildren – learn valuable life skills such as teamwork, goal setting and time management, as well as the ever-present joy in winning and the piercing misery of defeat. I viewed athletics in ways I never imagined. I saw coaches reach unreachable kids and command respect from the arrogance of adolescents. To some kids, the coach was a second parent. I saw families sacrifice time, effort and finances to help their kids excel in a sport they loved. And now, a generation later, we’re doing it all over again.
            So maybe that T-shirt from the 1990s was right. Soccer – or whatever sport your kid loves – is life. Who cares about those silly details?
 
Laura Claverie is a freelance writer and grandmother to two wonderful grandchildren, Rylan and Amelia. She lives in the Garden District. 

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